Critics disappointed at lack of long-term care strategy
There will not be a new Waterford Hospital for five to seven years, Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski said Tuesday after the province released Budget 2012.
Despite the province announcing last year it would work towards replacing the west end St. John’s hospital, which mostly serves patients in need of mental health services, Budget 2012 puts more money into the aging facility.
About $750,000 will be spent renovating the forensic unit at the Waterford Hospital.
In 2011’s budget, the province said it would spend $4.5 million to start planning the demise of the facility, parts of which date to 1855.
Total cost of replacing the Waterford at that point was estimated at $250 million.
Tuesday, Health Minister Susan Sullivan wouldn’t put a timeframe on construction, saying time must be spent contemplating how to make the new facility the most functional.
But Kaminski told The Telegram the optimistic start date would be five years from now.
With construction seasons and other issues, it could be more like seven, she said.
“The investment in forensics is a modest way to maintain it,” she said, adding the unit needs updated security features, new doors and flooring.
Even with the facility slated to go, Kaminski said repairs and renos can’t be ignored because it needs to be safe.
“We are going to be residing there for some time,” she said.
“If we don’t do routine renos … it could end up in a position where something dramatic goes and we can’t use the building at all and we’re stuck.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael was not impressed with the lack of more news from government on the Waterford.
“I was really quite upset when I saw that in the budget today,” Michael said.
“It didn’t seem to have any money from the ongoing planning of the Waterford. Yet they have money for the ongoing work around other facilities that were mentioned in last year’s budget, but no mention of Waterford this year. I really was quite disturbed when I saw that.”
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball also said his party would be asking the Dunderdale government questions about the status of the Waterford.
This year’s budget will spend a total of $3 billion on health-care services for everyone in the province, which is $100 million more than what was actually spent in fiscal 2011-12.
Sullivan said since 2003, health-care spending has doubled.
While she said it was a good day Tuesday for health spending, she noted sustaining health care is an issue across the country.
“Within our own health-care systems, we have continued to spend significantly, but at the same time challenging our regional health authorities around finding efficiencies, about finding those ways to continue to offer critical services and programs and care that is needed while finding efficiencies in their own systems,” Sullivan said.
Ball said he liked the enhancement to breast cancer screening and dialysis services, but he called the budget “passive” when it comes to health care.
He said the provincial government missed the opportunity to do significant work on chronic disease management, which would save health-care spending.
Like several other critics, he was also disappointed there is no long-term and home care plan.
“I didn’t see a whole lot in home care, which really surprised me given the fact it was such an election issue,” Ball said.
“There’s nothing new in the budget for health care. It’s status quo,” Michael said.
“All the money that’s in long-term care is all money that’s already been earmarked.
“I’m very disappointed about the long-term care and home care. They have promised a strategy and we don’t have the strategy. If there was a place for the strategy to show up, it would have been in the budget.”
Debbie Forward, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union, was also disappointed at the lack of a long-term care plan.
“In the summer of 2010, they did a public consultation on long-term care. In the fall of 2010, there was an advisory committee set up for nursing to look at staffing levels in long-term care. That report has been with the minister since last August, and we still have not seen a strategy and we haven’t seen any movement from the Department of Health on that staffing levels,” Forward said.
Pegi Earle of the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador also described it as a “hold your course” budget in terms of health care.
“We see some new services, but without seeing the details, it’s hard to determine what it means,” said the association’s executive director. “It’s a fact that we have the largest number of nurses in our history, but we do see new services in the budget and we wonder what that means for the nursing profession and improving access to health care.”
Earle is hoping to soon see the details of the province’s long-term care strategy.
“We were really hoping to see that in this budget. … With our aging population and increased need for health services and community-based services, we are looking forward to learning what the government is planning in that regard,” she said.